Today I walked out on a gig. I was to provide solo background music for a cake competition. This was a non-paying gig, but the plus side was that it doubled as a wedding networking event. I've had positive experiences with other networking events, and I've usually booked paid gigs with the people I've met. I had no reason to believe today would be any different.
My first clue that this might not be the ideal gig was when I arrived (an hour early as usual) and no one knew where I was supposed to set up. There was apparently no thought given as to where the FREE background musician should be. It was as if they'd forgotten that I was even going to be there. I was assured that I would have a spot to play and a table to display cards and brochures. Didn't happen.
There was only one area where I could fit, so I carved out a space to play behind some of the vendors. I even found a table that I could use to set out my business cards, not that it did any good. Because I had to set up behind the vendors, there was a physical barrier between me and anyone who might want to pick up one of my cards. My reason for playing the event (networking and advertising) was negated before I even played a single note.
On top of that, I was asked to turn the music down not once, not twice, but three times. You could use any number of adjectives to describe my solo style, but "loud" isn't one of them. The first time I was asked to turn down? No problem. It wouldn't be the first time I've misjudged the volume level, and I'm more than happy to accommodate by lowering the volume. The second time? Annoying. I've never been asked to turn down twice. Even so, I turned down again, even though I could hardly hear myself. After I was told to turn it down a third time, I came to the conclusion that if the event staff could hear me at all, it must mean that I'm too loud. As a background musician, I understand all about playing at a low volume level, but it has to be heard to some degree, or I may as well not even be there. My music is soft and understated, but there's an art to what I do. It ain't Muzak.
I was playing for free, and it was not worth my time to continue playing at an inaudible level for three more hours behind a physical barricade. You either want music or you don't, and it seemed to me that they didn't want me. After being told to turn down for the third time, I finished my song, packed my gear, and left. The vendors, who were sitting directly in front of my amp, were enjoying my music and were quite surprised to learn that I was too loud.
I'm easygoing. I get along with just about everyone I've ever met. I'm accommodating, and as long as I'm treated with respect, I'll go the extra mile to help you out. But I have a switch that you don't want to flip. I left without making a scene. A couple vendors asked where I was going, so I explained, and they understood. As a matter of fact, one of them was so upset that she told me she was going to complain on my behalf. I'm thankful that none of the event staff tried to stop me, because my low simmer could very well have come to a full boil.
Not to be arrogant, but I think I'm pretty damned good at what I do. I don't have blazing technique, but I can make my guitar sing, and my voice isn't half bad, either. Not having played the guitar for very long, I've been taking every playing opportunity that comes up, simply for the experience. Now it's time to cut back on the "for exposure" gigs and make room for better opportunities.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.